Tag Archive for children’s poetry

10 Things I Love (March 31st Edition)




Blogs are dead, everybody knows it, the tweet spread the news long ago. Nobody reads blogs anymore. These days it’s all Twitter and Instagram and Facebook and short, short, short.

I get it, I do. We’re all feeling the time squeeze.

But because I’m childishly oppositional, I refuse to give up my blog. And I’m keeping my 8-Tracks, too. I started this blog back in 2008, so we’ve become attached. I like to have readers, but I’m not sure I really need them. It wouldn’t stop me from writing. There’s something about the open-ended blog format that offers room to spread out and say things, however long it takes. Whether anyone listens or not.

My pal, illustrator Matthew Cordell, used to blog with enthusiasm. One of his recurring features was his monthly-ish “Top Ten” lists, where Matt randomly listed some of his recent enthusiasms. It could be a song, a book, a movie, or a type of eraser (Matt was weird about erasers). It was always fun to read.

So I’m stealing it.

Here are ten things I’ve recently loved:




I visited Cleveland with my son, Gavin, to check out Case Western Reserve University. The following day, we headed over to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which was spectacular in every way. (Except for: The Red Hot Chili Peppers? Really?) I’m a huge music fan, so it was perfect for me. I found the museum strangely moving in parts, my heart touched. I could see that rock music was big enough, and diverse enough, to offer a home to people from every walk of life.

CARRY ME HOME by Diane McWhorter


Amazing, fascinating, and at times brutal Pulitzer Prize-winning book that’s stayed with me long after the last page. It provides a dense, detailed account of the civil rights struggle centered in Birmingham, Alabama. Martin Luther King, the Klu Klux Klan, Fred Shuttlesworth, George Wallace, J. Edgar Hoover, Bobby Kennedy, Bull Conner, and more. One of those books that helps you understand America.



I’ve been ridiculously fortunate in my career, in that I’ve received a lot of fan mail across the past twenty years. But I have to admit, I especially like it when those letters include a drawing. There’s just something about children’s artwork that slays me, every time. This drawing is by Rida in Brooklyn.



This book has been on my list almost since the day it came out — the buzz was instantaneous, and huge — but on a tip from a friend, I waited for the audiobook to become available through my library. Here, Ta-Nehisi Coates gives a powerful reading. It’s poignant to listen to an author reading his own words, particularly since this book is essentially a letter to his son.

“WINTER RABBIT,” a poem by Madeleine Comora

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We’re not here to bash Jack Prelutsky. Because, after all, Jack Prelutsky is hilarious. But, but, but. There are times when I worry that too many people think children’s poetry begins and ends with Mr. Prelutsky. That a poem for kids always has to be bouncy and fast and slight and funny, i.e., Prelutsky-ish. Well, here’s a poem I came across while reading Oh, No! Where Are My Pants? and Other Disasters: Poems, unerringly edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins. I admire the heartfelt, beautiful sorrow of Comora’s poem. “I thought of his last night alone/huddled in a wire home./I did not cry. I held him close,/smoothed his fur blown by the wind./For a winter’s moment, I stayed with him.” The illustration is  by Wolf Erlbruch. Click on the poem if your eyes, like mine, need larger type.



I’m so grateful that I live near a cool, little movie theater that makes room for small foreign films such as this, a mind-blowing look at life on the Amazon, spectacularly filmed in black-and-white. Click here for more details.



My wife Lisa and I don’t watch hours of TV together, but we do like to have a show we can share. We’ve been a loss for a few months, but recently discovered season one of “The Americans” on Amazon Prime. We’re hooked.


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We have tickets to see Bromberg this coming weekend. He’s an old favorite of mine, first saw him in 1980 on Long Island. I’ve just rediscovered “Sammy’s Song,” which I haven’t heard in decades. What a chilling coming-of-age story, brilliantly performed. Oh, about that harmonica part? That’s Dave’s pal, Bob Dylan, with an uncredited guest turn.



I just finished writing my first Jigsaw Jones book after a long time away. For many years, Scholastic had allowed the series to die on the vine, with book after book slowly going out of print. It’s been a crushing thing for me to stand by helplessly and watch. But with the help of my agent, I got back the rights, and now Macmillan has plans to relaunch the series. I am thrilled. There are more than 10 million copies of those books out there in world, and it seems like every second-grade classroom in America has a ragged copy or three. Writing the new book, The Case from Outer Space, was such a pleasure. It felt like being home again.



For an author, it’s a special day, always, always. That book you’ve been toiling over for months, years, finally arrives in book form. Uncorrected, unfinished, but for the first time you can hold it in your hands — a book! — and think, “I did that!” Note: Arc = Advanced Reader’s Copy. The Courage Test, a middle grade novel, will be out for real in September.




I love documentaries of almost any nature, but I can’t recommend this one highly enough. A pure joy, with twinkling mischievous wit and surprising heart, too. If you like running at all — or not! — see this movie. About the toughest, wildest, and weirdest race in the world. Catch it on Netflix Instant!

Hills Gleam Dimly: Karla Kuskin (1932 – 2009)

I put it down and I begin to understand it better. Karla Kuskin.

Karla Kuskin died in late August, 2009. I was away on vacation at the time, off the grid, not even looking at newspapers, so I missed it. I’d like to spend a few minutes today in appreciation of Karla Kuskin, to note a poet’s passing with due respect. At a time when much of children’s poetry aspires only to imitate Dr. Suess, here was a woman who wrote with sophistication and depth — feeling, heart, soul, and wit. Poems for children, yes; but she did not pander, she was not writing down; she lifted up.

I interviewed Karla many years ago, almost decades, for a profile that was eventually collected in this book, which I gather you can still find in some dark, dank corners of cyberspace. Worth checking out, I think: dated somewhat, but with golden nuggets inside. Awesome insights directly from Vera B. Williams, Aliki, Cynthia Rylant, Kevin Henkes, Eric Carle, Tony Johnston, Carlotte Zolotow, Barbara Park, James Marshall, and many, many others (75 in all). Anyway, I liked Karla immediately. She was unpretentious, yet serious about her craft; easy to talk to, genuine and funny. My highest compliment: She was a true artist.

The main challenge of the book was that my editors at Scholastic wanted the short profiles to work on two levels. For adults, as well as for children. In remembrance of Karla, here’s an excerpt from that book:

Though sense and silliness, bouncy rhymes and flowing rhythms, Karla shares her love of poetry with young children. A mood, a memory, a sound — anything can spark a poem. And anyone can write one, Karla believes. “Poetry can be as natural and effective a form of self-expression as singing or shouting,” she says.

Karla has always loved listening to the rhythm of words. She states, “I am a firm believer in reading aloud because, I suppose, I loved it so much as a child.” Grateful for a childhood in which reading was an everyday family activity, Karla believes that “when you are exposed to poetry when you are little, it stays with you for the rest of your life.

“When I am working on a book of poetry,” Karla says, “I jot down everything on any scrap of paper at hand; I pay attention to what’s going through my head. I’m much more aware of language, words, rhythm, description. I try to hang on to these ideas, because if I don’t write them down, they’re gone forever.”

It is Karla’s hope that readers of her poems will, in turn, write poems of their own. As she says, “If you read, you write.” Karla realizes that most children will not grow up to become professional writers. “The important thing about writing is that it helps the writer discover his or her own thoughts and feelings.

“In difficult times,” Karla confides, “I’ve always found that to write out what I feel is very helpful. I put it down and I begin to understand it better.”

Nice, right?

The New York Times ran a leisurely obituary, it wasn’t in hurry to be over, and it touched on highlights obvious and some less so. They concluded with this untitled poem by Karla, from Near the Window Tree, and I loved it.

Write about a radish

Too many people write about the moon.

The night is black

The stars are small and high

The clock unwinds its ever-ticking tune

Hills gleam dimly

Distant nighthawks cry.

A radish rises in the waiting sky.